Post Fire Hike - Ponderosa Campground to Visitor Center Via Upper Crossing

frijoles before fire

Before the fire/floods of 2011 Frijoles Canyon was a lush oasis with dense vegetation that provided cool relief from the summer sun and home to a diversity of plant and animal life.

NPS Photos


The Las Conchas Fire of 2011 burned over 60% of Bandelier National Monument. Frijoles Canyon was heavily impacted with over 70% of its length burned, some quite intensely. In late summer, heavy thunderstorms dropped large volumes of water in a short period of time on the devastated landscape. Flash flooding followed, highlighted by the largest flood of the season on August 21, 2011. Approx 9 months later (and then again another month later) we hiked the canyon to see how things were impacted and also to see how much recovery there has been. For those who have done this hike before the trip was eye opening with both a sense of loss and also one of hope. As we approach the late summer rainy season (the months of July, August, and September) this hike is not recommended as more severe flooding is almost a certainty. What follows are images of what we found on our 8 mile hike from Ponderosa Campground to the park visitor center via Upper Crossing on May 1st and June 6th 2012.

burned trees ponderosa frijoles rim 3

In many areas from Ponderosa Campground to the Frijoles Canyon rim burned trees dominated the landscape.

photo by sally king

into frijoles 6

The first view into the once lush canyon made one catch their breath.  With such limited vegetation to slow the movement of water across the landscape, heavy rains that mark the late summer season are likely to cause more flood events this year. 

photo by sally king

upper xing 2

The inviting and unintimidating Frijoles Creek runs through the blacked scarecrow trees like a silver ribbon.  During last years flood season this tiny creek grew into a raging torrent flowing at least 7000 cu ft/sec.  Flow shown is < 15 cu ft/sec.  You wouldn't want to be standing near this creek in a heavy downpour.

photo by sally king

upper xing 4

In early May the darkened hillsides were temporarily lush with the bloom of Golden Smoke.  In June the less lively dogbane replaced the more colorful spring flowers.  The non-woody vegetation sprouting on the damaged slopes will do little to hold back runoff from heavy storms.

photo by sally king

post fire growth

Even with the overhead cover eliminated some plants/animals were making a hasty comeback.  Wouldn't you know that poison ivy would be one of them!

Photo by sally king

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